Best of Nirali Magazine


hen Boston-based journalist Monika Jain’s daughter, Sejal, was 5 years old, Jain had a realization. “She knew where all the Arthur and Nancy Drew books were in the library,” she says. “But I wanted her to also read something where she would see who she was. It was on the back burner of my mind for many years.”

Four years later, Jain met two women who would become her partners: businesswoman Leena Chawla and art designer Radhika Ramdev. Together, the three women—who all had young children of their own—came together to found Kahani, the first South Asian literary magazine for children.

Kahani—which means “story” in Hindi—premiered in the summer of 2004. Today, Jain runs the magazine with two new partners, business director Sunitha Das and creative director Sonia Chopra. Featuring gorgeous illustrations, stories like “A Rosy Pink Eid” and “Remembering Dada,” and fun profiles of South Asians like astronaut Sunita Williams, the magazine aims to reach children from various South Asian backgrounds.

Aimed at children ages 6 to 11, Kahani has garnered praise from around the country, winning awards from both the Association of Educational Publishers and the National Association for Multicultural Education. And just last month, Kahani was awarded the Parents’ Choice Approved Award—alongside publications such as Sesame Street magazine and American Girl.

But Jain is reluctant to accept all the applause for Kahani’s success. She acknowledges that the magazine would not be possible without the talented writers and illustrators who contribute their work—without pay—to create the quarterly publication.

“That’s what’s been amazing,” says Jain. “We’ve been able to find people who can give their time and talent. So when we win an award like this and my name gets put out there, I don’t feel good about it. I’m just the puppeteer moving things around.”

In honor of these unrecognized contributors, spotlights four stories—and their authors and illustrators—from recent issues of Kahani.

Circle Dance, Fall 2006

Written by Kashmira Sheth
Illustrated by Lara Lakshmi

“Circle Dance” is a sweet story about a young girl who teaches her friend Katie to do a garba dance for Navratri. Author Kashmira Sheth is no stranger to children’s fiction. She has written a number of books, including Blue Jasmine, Koyal Dark, Mango Sweet and the recent picture book My Dadima Wears a Sari. About the inspiration for “Circle Dance,” she says, “I’m from Gujarat, and I remember participating in garba since I was four. When my daughters were young, I started a dance group and I taught raas, garba and other dances, and we performed throughout Wisconsin. The group had mainly children of Indian heritage but there were also other children from Peruvian, Laotian and European backgrounds.”

Lara Lakshmi, an engineer-turned-illustrator, brings the story to life with her artwork. She did her homework before doing the drawings to make sure she was representing the work accurately. “I’ve participated in garba for Navratri several times, but I have never lived in Gujarat, the home state of garba,” says Lakshmi. “To make sure I didn’t misrepresent any critical details in my illustrations, I called a friend who grew up there, explained my assignment and invited her over with her young daughter for a play date and photo session. They were nice enough to arrive dressed in chania choli. My daughter wanted to change into her best lehnga right away. We improvised by playing a Bollywood version of garba music, and my friend and the girls had a great time dancing while I sketched and took photos.”

Made in India, Summer 2006

Written by Sandhya Nankani
Illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran

The cover of the Summer 2006 issue, illustrated by Kavita Ramchandran, features a lovely water-color image of a young girl sucking on a mango (pictured above). Ramchandran also illustrated the issue’s story, “Made in India,” an enchanting tale about a little girl who asks her parents to take her to the land of her birth. “The story had a soft, emotional appeal, and watercolors worked best with it,” says Ramchandran, who runs a design studio that specializes in children’s educational design. She is also the creator of Maya, a 5-year-old Indian girl featured on Nick Jr.

Author Sandhya Nankani, an editor and freelance writer living in New York, says, “Whenever I walk down the streets of New York, I’m struck by the ‘Made in India’ stamps on the manhole covers. I like to pause in my tracks and step on those words—somehow this little action makes me feel connected to my roots and sends a thrill of happiness down my spine. When I started thinking about a story for the summer issue of Kahani, I knew that I wanted to write a piece about an adopted child in the U.S. who visits India for the first time with her adoptive parents. It struck me that perhaps something as small and insignificant as words on a manhole might actually make an impression on a child and make her want to visit her first home.” As a result, the story opens with protagonist Tara stepping on such a manhole and asking her parents to take her to India.

Nothing Is More Important, Summer 2006

Written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Illustrated by Aruna Rangarajan

“Nothing Is More Important” is primarily about friendship, told through the story of two best friends, Mita and Emma. Mita teaches Emma about rakhis, the friendship bracelets to celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan. “The inspiration for this story came from my own childhood. I went to school in the United States, and most of my classmates were not from India or South Asia. Back then, the Indian community was more reserved and quiet, if not smaller, so my classmates and their families really didn’t know much about my traditions. I remember explaining rakhi to a friend when I was younger, and I thought that this would be something children today could relate to as well,” says writer Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, the author of several children’s books, including Tightrope Poppy, the High-Wire Pig and Championship Science Fair Projects.

Aruna Rangarajan, who illustrates for a number of children’s works, added decorative details to this story’s illustrations. “Since it’s about two little girls, I thought putting those flowery elements would be a good touch,” she says.

The Magic Coin, Spring 2006

Written by Sachin Waikar
Illustrated by Salima Alikhan

When second-grader Kayan visits India with his family, he can’t help but feel homesick for his home in Chicago. He’s also afraid to join the games the other children in his grandparents’ building play, so his grandfather gives him a magic coin—one that helps Kayan overcome his sadness and his fear.

“I wanted to write a story about the risks and rewards of joining in—especially when you have something different to offer—and the importance of thinking for yourself,” says author and freelance writer Sachin Waikar, who has worked both in clinical psychology and business consulting.

Children’s book illustrator Salima Alikhan created the pictures to go with “The Magic Coin” using pen and ink watercolors. “I liked this story for inspiring hope, showing loving family interaction and depicting age-appropriate frustrations and joys of the main character,” she says. “I was approached by Kahani to do the illustrations, and I was honored to contribute. The magazine has a wonderful premise and philosophy.”n

Ismat Sarah Mangla can’t wait to share Kahani with her two nieces.
Published on May 21, 2007.
Art: Courtesy of Kahani and the illustrators who own each piece.
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